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Nadal off to winning start at Indian Wells

ESPN staff
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Rafael Nadal loosened up in the second set © AP
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Rafael Nadal, playing competitively on a hard court for the first time in almost a year, defeated Ryan Harrison 7-6(3) 6-2 in a second-round match at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday.

Nadal, a two-time champion at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, had missed seven months because of a left knee injury and had not played a tournament match on a hard court since March 29, 2012.

The Spanish star returned to the ATP Tour a month ago and played three tournaments on clay, winning two of those and saying his knee felt better each week.

But he said in a pre-match news conference that he had no idea how the knee would hold up under the stress of a harder surface and had no expectations in terms of results.

Nadal took a 4-1 lead in the opening set with a performance that he rated as "nothing special but OK," then lost three games in a row as Harrison pulled even. Nadal reasserted himself in the tiebreaker, racing out to a 5-1 lead, and he took control of the second set by winning five games in a row after Harrison had held serve to open the set.

"He started passing a lot better," Harrison said. "I was just kind of throwing him off rhythm a little bit with mixing the serve and volley. I think once I let that tiebreaker slip away a little bit and he got ahead he started loosening up and swinging out a little more."

Nadal was pleased to be moving on. "I am satisfied to be in the next round. That's the most important thing," he said. "Two weeks ago I didn't really know if I would be here playing. I am happy to be here. I am happy to be in the third round. Good victory for me today against a good opponent.

"I am fine. My physical performance needs to improve. My movements need to improve. Matches like this help me, for sure. Today, any victory is important for me. If you win, you have more chances. If you have more chances, you will compete more and you will practice more and you will be ready to put yourself in 100 percent condition in a short period of time.

"If you are losing very early it's tough because you can practice a lot, but at the end it's not enough, the practice. The important thing is to compete."

This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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